As South Londoner and modern soul hero Sampha (“Close But Not Quite”) conquers my speakers, it’s time to relativize and dream. Music is a common love for most of our human fellows, and maybe even other species can enjoy music to the same extent. But, I don’t want to generalize. A recent Harvard study showed that only 50% of people get goosebumps while listening to music. You, for 50 percent sure know those moments. These moments where you want to drown in time, and when those soundscapes and music work to its climax; this perfect symbiosis between chords, vocals, and other sounds. That moment where everything comes together. But, there is a big but, it’s not only about the music: it’s about your ability to imagine, to dream away, to emphasize and embrace the story behind it. Your story. And in this case, Montreal’s story.
If you feel comfortable with these thoughts, you’ll be able to understand, feel, and be part of the concept of a Music City, thus fully grasp the concept of Montreal.
The concept of Music City
This August, I was accidentally part of the 18th edition of the MUTEK festival. During one of its symposia, I was introduced to the concept of Music City: A few music venues, a couple of festivals, and a passionate civil servant with a cultural policy. Sounds simple, right? But it’s much more. Way more.
Take for example New York, London, and Paris. They all possess amazing music scenes, lots of opportunities, however, at the end of the day, these cities are all about the financial business district, fashion, IT or some other secondary sustenance: they are basically tools to help you achieve your objectives, but not your goal.
Montreal is one of the few cities with its own story. Of course, there’s a downtown financial business district and a place where they serve the worst poutine ever (an eerie combination of fries, gravy, and so-called plastic cheese). Most importantly, Montreal breathes all kinds of music. You can almost smell it when entering the city.
The amalgam of amazing downtown venues, small crappy touristic places, artistic stages on every Plateau corner, underground music at Mile Ex, and pop-up music parties across the city is one of a kind, brilliant, and overwhelming.
During the MUTEK conference, cities like Amsterdam and Austin were praised for their music policy. Their music drives the identity of these cities, and the opportunity they create coincides with people, motivation, and policy. The conference visitors modestly looked up to these cities. It was followed by a somewhat heated argument between musicians, programmers, politicians, venue-owners, and accidental music lovers. Some visitors even left the room. For me, the detached stranger, it was crystal-clear that there was no actual argument. In fact, everybody was trying – in their way - to articulate the same idea: The nurturing of Montreal’s music identity; the hard proof that Montreal is a real music city.
It’s easy to create formal venues and festivals. Invest a hefty sum of cash in music, and there you go — just like Russia who “built” the Sochi Olympic Games or how Qatar bought World Cup 2022. It’s not part of a culture or entity; it’s just there.
Music and Montreal have a different kind of relationship. It’s passionate, it’s proud, and people live for music. It’s part of the Montréalais’ identity. Every city has residents, ambassadors, and a music policy. However, only a few cities share this music DNA where they embrace music and make it their pride. Few are deserving of the title “Music City.” There is no need to name artists, venues or festivals; it’s praise to the city, it’s a salute to Montreal, which modesty will ensure it remains a dreaming music city until the end of time.
Oh, by the way, I’m a Dutchie.